man on horse closing gate

The Value of Experience

“People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho penned those words in his 1998 novel “Veronika Decides to Die,” a bit of psychological fiction that examines the all-too-real concepts of madness, self-destruction and redemption.

Remember your youth, when no matter how much your parents pleaded for you to follow their advice, you were convinced your way was better? Sure, they’d lived decades longer and gone through nearly identical situations, but that didn’t matter. We were sure we knew best. Put simply, most of us had to learn at least some of life’s lessons the hard way. It may not be the gentlest method to matriculate into adulthood, but many agree it can be the most beneficial approach.

Likewise, I think some of the hardest-learned lessons within our sports and associations are the most valuable. But there’s another step to making those lessons worthwhile. We must remember them and we must study them. After all, they say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Philosopher George Santayana is credited with the wise words, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That saying has morphed over time into the common proverb: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Regardless of how you say it, the point is the same. The lessons of our past are useless if we ignore them. And like the parents of youngsters still determined to carve their own path, association members feel frustrated, angry and powerless when they see fellow members or leaders repeating history. Their careless choices often cause divisiveness that ripples into unrelated facets far past their inner circle. Simple lapses in judgment can result in changes that are hard for an organization to swallow.

The good news is when we’re armed with the knowledge taught by experience, we have the power to make a difference. With a little prudent foresight, we can use our experiences for good to benefit our sports and our associations. This can be expertise involving horses or even things we’ve learned in our lives outside of the horse world. Too often the knowledge and experiences of our members go unutilized.

If ever you’ve doubted the vast diversity of our membership in cutting, reining or reined cow horse, take the time to attend a convention or general membership meeting and you’ll discover otherwise. They’re horse people and businesspeople, and they have a plethora of experience to draw from when needed. It is foolish to cast them aside in times of turmoil; they have the tools to be part of our salvation.

At the risk of ruffling some feathers, perhaps it is time for us to examine the “army” we have driving our associations forward. We need to figure out the right number of commanders necessary to lead us, and then place more importance on the soldiers. With too many leaders, governance turns into a discombobulated mess that leaves members feeling like we’re following a path to self-destruction. We need to complete the circle of life outlined in Coelho’s novel. It’s time for some redemption.

The soldiers — the boots on the ground — are essential to success. In time, they are able to gain crucial knowledge through experiences with the intimate details of their respective areas, whether that is show results, judging or association affairs. Oftentimes the soldiers of our associations are viewed as less valuable than those in positions of more power, but I would argue they are the ones handling the requests of the membership on a day-to-day basis. They are the ones meeting the immediate needs of the “customers,” which (as I’ve mentioned in my columns before) is one of the most important tenets to a thriving organization.

Experience is defined by Merriam-Webster as “direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge.” We all have experiences from which we have gleaned knowledge. Let’s use that know-how to build a better world for our Western performance horse and those that love him.